After winning with Team Canada at the 2023 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championships, Defenceman Gracie Graham paid a visit to the players of the Merritt Minor Hockey Association.
On Wednesday, February 15, Merritt Minor Hockey hosted a meet and greet with Gracie Graham at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. Over 20 players from the different age groups gathered to get autographs and take photos with Graham.
“It was such a really great experience for me,” she said. “The girls understand what I’d done so it was really cool for me when I heard that they look up to me.”
“This is an excellent opportunity to showcase one of our former Merritt Minor Hockey athletes to show where she’s taken hockey in her life,” said Merritt Minor Hockey Vice President Jenny Stirling.
“Becoming a gold medallist and representing her country is such an amazing accomplishment and we want to celebrate that, as well as inspire our own skaters.”
Graham started her playing career as a player for Merritt Minor Hockey. Since the age of five, she has been lacing up her skates playing competitively with other kids.
“I was usually the only girl on the teams I played on and the boys were always very supportive. It was a great experience playing in Merritt.”
It wasn’t until Graham joined Rink Hockey Academy in Kelowna that she had an opportunity to play with fellow girls in her age bracket.
“Playing with all of your friends is just one of the best things,” she said. “The girls game is a little bit different, compared to the boys game. I feel that experiencing that different mental game with the girls team has really benefited me.”
After meeting the current players for Merritt Minor Hockey, Graham was very happy to see that the female membership has grown among the different age brackets since her playing time there.
“Merritt is definitely a great place for skill development,” she said. “Personally, playing with the guys when I was here gave me a hockey family. Everyone knew each other from school and they all helped me learn when I was just starting out with my playing career.”
“We always try to find ways to retain girls in hockey,” said Stirling. “When they start to get older, we start to see a division between the boys and girls. In smaller towns such as Merritt, we find it harder to have enough girls for a team, and unfortunately not all girls feel comfortable or confident enough to play on the boys team.”
Graham’s visit consisted of a meet and greet in the locker room at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. It was then followed by ice time with the players. Having the girls hover around her during the ice time was Graham’s favourite memory from the event.
“I think when I was at that age that I would’ve done the exact same thing if my idol was there,” she said. “It is just so awesome that I was the one there that the girls wanted to be with.”
With the goal of the visit being to inspire girls of the future generation, Graham shared these words to the players she met.
“Just dream big,” she said. “No matter where you start, you can achieve your dreams. I never thought that I would wear the Team Canada jersey, but here we are.”
Graham will have a very busy week as she heads down to Prince Edward Island with Team BC for the Canada Winter Games. She hopes to continue developing as a player, making it back onto Team Canada next year.